Sunday, September 25, 2011
OUTHOUSE MEMORIES: Show of hands, how many actually used an old outhouse, the homemade wooden kind that stank and had pissants and catalog pages, not one of these portapetes or other modern contraptions that actually had toilet seats. Do you have any stories about same?
I used them at my grandparents farm, and other relatives in the Ozarks, and even a few behind ancient gas stations on long drives when a kid.
The moon symbol represented "night soil", so you knew this was the outhouse and not a shed. The hole in the ground was typically sloped back away from the buttholes so stuff would roll to the bottom. This made some outhouses tilt over time.
Eventually you had to move the outhouse and dig a new septic pit to set it over, fill in the old one. Kittens were known to fall in. Remember we didn't have running water or much
I remember that you needed to check for black widow spiders in the butt opening area so you wouldn't get bitten on the butt. If piss ants were swarming around, you'd brush them
off best you could because they bite. It stank to high heaven and was pretty hot inside usually, or freezing, so you didn't really want to stay long.
Too bad if you did not bring something to wipe with, or check to see if there was
anything there like toilet paper, or catalog pages, newspaper, dried corn cobs. (no, dried corn cobs are soft, not rough, they were saved after eating the corn and left to
dry out then put in a container in the outhouse).
Some people kept a ladle and little pot of lime in the outhouse to scoop into the pit to "sweeten" the smell and dissolve the poop. A flyswatter was a good thing to hang in there,
lots of flies, and wasps and spiders.
Most outhouses were single holers, meant for one person at a time. Sometimes you'd encounter a double holer, very fancy, for use in a large family or a business setting. Very
rarely would there be his and hers. very very fancy ones might have wooden toilet rim seats attached, that was rare.
The Sears mail order catalog was more like telephone book paper back then, not shiny slick paper, so it was good for wiping.
Teenagers would play "pranks" with Outhouses, especially on Halloween. Sometimes the school principal's outhouse would wind up on the roof of the school or some such.
There were other names for the Outhouse, the Crapper, the John, the Privy, the Pissoir.
If it was dark, you better take a lantern or lamp or flashlight. Most people did not go out
to the outhouse in the dark of the night, instead they kept a "honeypot", "honey jar", "slop jar" or other names for a container to poop and pee in, inside the house. This was
usually a speckled enameled stock pot with handles and lid.
It might be kept under the bed, or on a porch. People used it in the night, then dumped it in the outhouse during the daylight. It stank really bad. Sometimes people had old
chairs or rocking chairs with a big round hole cut in the chair seat, and just enough room for the honeypot to fit underneath. That was someone too old or frail to squat over
the pot could sit in comfort while they went in doors. One did not use the honeypot during the daytime, one went to the Outhouse.
There was a crude wooden latch on the Outhouse door, so you could keep someone else from opening the door on you. I remember pissant bites are very painful. There are only two sub types of ants that are attracted to urine and like to hang around outhouses and also bite. They have a very specific look to their legs.
As neighborhoods started to become "citified", and towns wanted to outlaw pooping in a hole in the ground, and they got a city water supply for running water, they made people
slowly get rid of their outhouses and install bathrooms. You either piped the poop out to a septic tank or cistern buried in the yard, and eventually when septic sewer lines were expanded you were forced to hook on to the septic sewer run by the locality, and help pay for it. Many old yards have dangerous old cisterns or septic tanks ready to collapse if someone walks on them. Children have died. They should have passed laws to make them be filled in. The difference between a Septic tank and cistern is that cisterns have no lateral drain lines to carry excess liquid away under the ground, you were expected to have them pumped out over time by a poop truck. Septic tanks have pipes that allow excess yuck to spread out under the yard, and they only get pumped out if they clog up.
You can tell if an old house was on cistern or septic before sanitary sewers because the drain pipes and poop stacks exit the house just below ground level, instead of way down below the basement floor. Or there might be the holes in the basement wall where the poop pipes originally went out to the back yard.
I may post more info about outhouses if anyone is interested. For instance they are wildly different around the world. Troops during WWII sometimes constructed "latrines" with twenty or more seats in a row, hanging over the edge of a steep cliff, etc. I'm afraid that there are not that many people left alive now who actively used outhouses or at least remember them. We need to capture this important part of the zeitgeist before it's all gone
and no one can remember how people pooped before talking spritzing diagnosing washing air drying singing japanese space toilets.
Copyright 2011 VROUK